no posts
Erin Ann Thomas

A Visit to Big Pit Mining Museum; South Wales

 The Weekly Snippet: Selection from Coal in Our Veins

Once my eyes adjusted, I sensed a cave-like coolness. I could hear water dripping, and the light from our lamps reflected against slick walls. I felt what the miners meant by the bowels of the earth. In a sense walking in a coal mine was like being swallowed. The stone seeped, suggesting the digestive juices of a black stomach. I understood why on every descent miners considered the possibility of never returning to sunlight.

Huey indicated a large metal cart full of coal. “They used to pull the trams along the tracks here, and each weighed a ton. What do you think is heavier? A ton of coal or a ton of iron?”

The girls giggled, but neither offered an answer.

Huey bent down so his head was on their level. “Alright then, right or left?”

The younger girl pointed and we went right, down a tunnel supported by boards. I had to crouch or the top of my hardhat would rattle against the roof. When we got past the first door into a hallway between two doors, our guide instructed us to turn off our lamps. He told us about the six- to nine-year-old children who used to watch the doors in the dark. At Big Pit the older children, aged ten to twelve, pushed trams, and the boys, who were twelve to fourteen, helped their fathers fill six trams a day. I held my hand in front of my eyes, but I couldn’t even see the outline of my fingers. I thought of Evan, a small boy in such a black world, and sudden tears gathered in the corner of my eyes. He had never resigned himself to mining. He must have resented the poverty that pulled him from school and the hills to this darkness and the fears of scuttling rats and rumbles of shifting rock.

 “Alright, turn ’em back on now.”

I wiped the tears from the corners of my eyes, and we continued through the tunnel until Huey stopped us. We focused our lamps on a room off to the side, where there was a seam of coal little more than a foot wide. The seam had been carved out of the mountainside, but the wall above it was still intact.

“Miners would lay on their sides ‘ere, with a pick and chip out the coal.”

Manual labor was something I understood. I had worked for the U.S. Forest Service for two summers after I graduated from high school. I built fences, using axes, shovels, trowels, hammers, and drills for ten hours a day. I wore gloves and a hardhat, carried fenceposts on my shoulders up hills, and hauled tree trunks through thick forest. Occasionally we cut trail, swinging axes and trowels over our shoulders in a rhythmic action for hours without breaks. But my work environment was mountain air and sun; wet days only emphasized the breathing green beauty of a forest. I enjoyed it, the sweat and the out-of-doors, but I knew that work like this made people old fast. After my two summers, I didn’t apply again.

Looking down at the twelve-inch seam, I thought of the movement and muscle that would be used to direct an implement such as a mandrill. I could imagine swinging it on my side; the strokes would be cramped and stilted, the coal much less yielding than the earth I had turned with the trowel and the roots I had cut with my ax. Muscles would ache intensely from the same posture day in and day out. Inhaling coal dust and being cramped between dripping mine walls where rats scurried up and down would sap out any pleasure I felt from my strength and hard work. I realized this was one thing I did not inherit from my Grandpa Thomas; the darkness of a mine gave me no comfort.

This entry was posted in Coal in Our Veins, Cymyru. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.

Back My Book Theme Author: Website Themes for Writers © 2017